Professor publishes in journals for Modern Jewish, Lesbian Studies

Abigail Piskel February 13, 2013 0

Dr. Amy Milligan, religious studies and women and gender studies professor at Elizabethtown College, signed a contract with Rowman and Littlefield Publishers to publish her work “Kallah’s Choice: Hair Covering Practices of Orthodox Jewish Women.”
She will also be published in the fall edition of the Journal of Lesbian Studies in a special topical issue involving religion and sexuality, with her essay entitled, “Expanding Sisterhood: Jewish Lesbians and Externalizations of Yiddishkeit,” which corresponds to her recently published article, “Colors of the Jewish Rainbow: A Study of Homosexual Men and Yarmulkes” in the current edition of the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies.
An edited version of her dissertation, “Kallah’s Choice: Hair Covering Practices of Orthodox Jewish Women,” is an ethnographic analysis of the Jewish female cultural negotiations and adaptations. “I look particularly at how Orthodox Jewish women in Lancaster, Pennsylvania use their hair and hair covering to explore cultural meanings and practices,” Milligan said.
After two years of participating in services at Lancaster’s only orthodox synagogue, Degel Israel, attending community events and speaking with women in safe private spaces, Milligan was able to compile all of the knowledge that she gained for this piece, which will be published in 2014.
In her essay “Expanding Sisterhood: Jewish Lesbians of Externalizations of Yiddishkeit,” Milligan acknowledges the yarmulke as a representative of Jewish gender hierarchy. “I look at how the feminist movement impacted Jewish women and apply queer theory to assess gender and sexuality in relation to the traditionally male external marker of the yarmulke.” When a woman chooses to wear a yarmulke, she is making a religious and political statement about her place within the Jewish community.
Her research of the use of the yarmulkes by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community is part of a larger project that she is currently working on that reflects how Jewish lesbians use their bodies to not only communicate, but to also express their identity through statements such as T-shirts, jewelry, tattoos, hair, head coverings and so on. “I have been very lucky that my research pool has snowballed. I started with a group of individuals that I knew, and asked them to introduce me to others who might be able to help. At this point I have interviewed close to eighty people across the US.” She has conducted many different interviews through emails, Skype sessions and face-to-face interviews. In each conversation, Milligan has been told many different stories, and learned more about the issues of religion and sexuality that the people of the Jewish community faced.
The goal of her work is to draw attention to an aspect of religious culture and ritual that is often overlooked, such as the hair on top of one’s head. Milligan stated, “There is great symbolism and significance in head and hair covering – yet it is something which has garnered little attention from academics.” Her research is a reminder of the richness and complexities of religion and gender and sexuality, and how they work to shape each other. She also feels very rewarded on a personal level to meet the many interesting people she has encountered and appreciates the trust they have put in her by telling their stories.
While attending Etown as a student, Milligan double majored in German and religious studies with a minor in women and gender studies. She shared her excitement in her return to Etown to teach courses in both the religious studies and women and gender studies departments, especially in courses such as “Women of Faith,” where both topics overlap.
When Milligan graduated from Etown in 2004, she was told that doing research in both gender and sexuality and Judaism was too interdisciplinary and there would not be a market for a combination of those two types of study. The discouragement did not stop her though. “I found some great mentors who really believed that my ideas had merit and encouraged me to continue with my ideas. Seeing my work in print is a reminder that if you believe that something is interesting and worthwhile, eventually others will come around and realize that different ideas aren’t necessarily bad!” She followed her instinct and was able to be published more than once, which is a great accomplishment for anyone.

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